Robin Williams’ Death Scared Me

The Dark Tunnel

Depression is insidious. It’s a dark tunnel from which seeing the light is difficult. And when depression grabs you and holds you in its clutches its very hard to escape. When you’re a victim of depression you may find time and again reasons to carry on. But usually you’re only saved by the end of the day, or by a phone call from a friend. Getting through the day becomes the top priority, and a considerable challenge for those with depression. But time and again you do it. Time and again you overcome. And then…the next day comes.

Robin Williams couldn’t get through the day, yesterday. The end of the day or that phone call from a friend never came. He was trapped in his despair as he apparently had been many times in his life. But this time he failed to make it out alive. From what we know about this brilliantly talented man he successfully overcame his demons time and time again. But they kept returning. It’s like he gave us all so much; so much of his energy and his joy that when left to himself he had none left, he had no reservoir from which we all tap into in our souls, our minds, our hearts, our faith. From wherever Robin Williams achieved the self-preservation instinct to check himself into substance abuse rehab repeatedly, including last month, he couldn’t find it yesterday.

Darkness Comes with DepressionFor those like myself who had stared the blackness of depression in the face it represents a particularly scary event. I found myself asking “If this universally loved man can be taken by depression what’s to happen to me if my despair returns?”. And I asked,”If this man feels unloved, insignificant, or in some way a failure…what about me?”

Prior to eight months ago I didn’t know depression or understand it. I thought it was equivalent to sadness, which like everybody else I have experienced many times in my life. I thought depression might just be sadness x 2. It’s not. It’s sadness x 1000. It’s sadness on steroids with a jet rocket pack strapped to its back. It’s not what I thought. It’s so much worse.

When first depression hits many friends and acquaintances are curious and perhaps caring enough to lend an ear. But usually that’s about it. It’s an ear. After the depression lingers even close friends drift away. They don’t understand and they don’t want to be dragged down by the depressed person’s mood, darkness, troubles. It takes the truly compassionate with a degree of understanding to provide assistance. And it takes professional help. Friends too often think a kick in the butt, or a pep talk should be sufficient to help the victim of depression. And when that proves insufficient they move on. A professional has the education and understanding and hopefully the compassion from which help can be supplied.

As I emerge from the darkest period of my life I can thank some truly helpful people. They include a family counselor from my parish, supplied to me and other church members at no cost. She has been a God send for me. I hired a business coach to keep me on-task with my company knowing my personal troubles might make the business falter or even fail. He has been tremendously effective in exactly what I needed from him. A single individual long time friend who has experienced that which I experienced has never failed to be there for me. Unlike so many others…he never faded away. Lastly, my son. He has seemed to sense my challenges, though I never revealed them to him and did my best to protect him from my shadows. His love and compassion, his hugs, and smiles have been beyond what I would have expected from such a young man. I miss him, since he’s out on his own building his own life, tackling his own challenges. But he pops in and never fails to lift my spirits.

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I know Robin Williams felt unloved, unsuccessful, insignificant, and as he grew older perhaps he had a fear of his future, of aging. I don’t know specifically. But I know these are the issues that trouble the depressed. Even someone who is as loved and successful as the comedian and actor who blessed our lives for 40 years. But I have turned away from my initial fear. I can’t accept that his fate is my fate. I’m a different person. Unlike him I don’t have a substance abuse problem. I will overcome and live in the moment, for my future is scary. It’s scary because its unknown. But I will climb on that roller coaster and forgo the merry go round.

You can help those who face depression by making them feel significant, accomplished and loved. That’s what they need. And if they need it more than others…so be it. Give it to them. You are never diminished by holding someone up. Know that you are enhanced. And you too are significant and loved.

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My Depression Might Benefit You

Darkness Comes with Depression

As far too many people know a little over three months ago I fell into a clinically diagnosed deep depression. Events in my life which I couldn’t have anticipated and was totally unprepared for hit me like a boulder rolling down hill. At fifty years of age I can honestly say I never felt so bad for so long. Certainly there have been times in my life where I was sad, possibly even depressed. The death of my father in 2001 comes to mind as a particularly painful time. But there has never been anything remotely close to this. And the silver lining of my story is that I hope and expect to come out the other side of this crisis as a better person.

My depression manifested itself in actual physical pain and sickness. It also resulted in an incredible zapping of my energy level. While normally a high-flying person who’s busy busy busy all day long and well into the evening; I am a high-energy guy; but by 4-5 pm every day I was done, and it was all I could do to make it through the evening to a regular bed time.

I had numerous mental lapses completely uncharacteristic of me. The most dangerous and dramatic occurred when I was in my car at a red light, first in line, and absent mindedly without paying attention I thought the light had turned green and I accelerated through a busy intersection while the light remained red. The week before Christmas I discovered four different accounting errors I had created in both my personal and business checkbooks that could have resulted in hundreds of dollars of overdraft charges and other fees. This is NOT normal behavior for me. I’m exceptionally careful in my accounting practices.

During the worst times I went from crying to anger to crying again daily, even hourly. I cried myself to sleep more than a few times. My self-esteem was zero. I didn’t feel I was any good to any body. And, yes, I had some very dark thoughts. I also slept during the day on a few occasions. Choosing bed over running my company. This is something I NEVER have done before.

The Christmas season and my beloved Seahawks playoff run to a Super Bowl title did little to ease my pain. In fact, the holidays made it much worse. Also making it worse were the frequent cryptic and negative posts I made to Facebook and Twitter. One of my friends and co-workers feared I had cancer and was dying (I don’t have cancer or any potentially fatal disease). I’m embarrassed and regret all these public exposures of my pain. I only hope all my friends will think better of me as I go forward and remember that so much of what I typically posted for public consumption was very positive, at least prior to three months ago.

So much of what I’ve read about depression and my specific circumstances has been spot-on, giving me a much more appreciative view of those in the world of psychology and psychiatry. It was if all their writings were being dictated from my mouth.

Depression will show you who your truest friends are. Initially everyone who knew of my hurt offered words of support and encouragement and advice.

“Hang in there”

“I’m there for ya.”

“Call me any time”

and more…

Over time nearly all those supportive friends tired of my despair and made themselves unavailable. To a large degree its understandable. They’ve got lives to lead. They’ve got problems too. Who wants to spend time with someone who will bring them down with their low and dark mood and their desperate cries for help, advice and support? Nonetheless, I can’t help but note those who weren’t there for me; or even some whose actions were outright hurtful, making my pain worse. It’s shocking how insensitive and uncaring some people were to me. But, at least now I know who can be counted on, or why these tangent friends were never close friends to begin with.

As I move to a more positive and stronger mental state I’ve learned a few things that might help anyone whose life’s storms develop into hurricanes.

1. Get help. I knew right away that I couldn’t deal with my situation without the guidance of a professional to whom I could relay all my fears, anxiety and troubles. I called my church St. Stephens the Martyr Catholic Church and met a well credentialed counselor who has been a bright light in my dark night. I honestly don’t know that I would have survived not having my weekly chats with this person. No not a priest. Though my increased visits to Mass also helped.

2. Keep the specifics about your troubles limited to a relatively small number of only the closest confidants. I didn’t do this. In my despair I revealed far too much to far too many people and ended up retarding my improved health. Too many had bad advice, or no advice. And too many didn’t seem to really care. Worst of all on at least a couple of occasions my private troubles were shared to others to whom I wouldn’t want the information shared by those I trusted to keep their mouths shut. It made me ashamed and further put off the time when I could feel good about myself.

2a. “I never take advice from anyone more messed up than I am.”- Tom Hopkins. Those who want to give you advice often have no business giving advice to anyone based on how messed up their own lives are. It’s OK to talk with those who have “been through it”. But make sure they’ve actually been through it and not someone who’s life doesn’t hold up to admirable levels according to your high standards.

3. When you find yourself obsessing over negative and destructive thoughts do whatever is necessary to stop it. This is something I’ve only recently gotten better at in the past couple weeks. When I start thinking I’m worthless or that I’m a victim or bad thoughts about someone else I now will sternly and firmly say out loud, “STOP IT!“. I’ll repeat it two or three times if necessary, STOP IT! STOP IT! YOU’RE ONLY HURTING YOURSELF! And then I will focus on something else. What that something else is can vary. It may be as inane as how the mesh in a wicker chair is woven. Or it may be about my schedule for the remainder of the week. Try it. But STOP with the negative thoughts.

4. Have a mental place you can go. Real seems to be better than imaginary. But I have both. When I’m needing some peace I close my eyes and see my park, a park I always went to as a teen where I could throw a frisbee for my dog and walk all around green meadows, and gaze at the willow trees. I love willow trees. When I do this my breathing eases and my heart quits pounding.

5. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Giving up is what a loser would do. And if you make yourself a loser. You’ll be a loser. And how will that play on your fragile mental condition? As long as you’re trying and pushing forward you are a champion. Remember, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going. You’re still moving farther and faster than the guy on the couch.

6. Get up and do something. I exercise 5 days per week. My worst days are when I don’t.

7. Give yourself time. Don’t be mad at yourself or your situation if the next day is not a lot better than the previous or if you’re still depressed or lacking energy. I’m a lot better than I was last month. Last month I was a lot better than the month before. Things will get better, especially if you take the necessary steps to make them better.

I have a much more understanding and compassionate feeling for those who have depression now than I did before mine hit me. This writing is therapeutic. It helps me pass along a closed-caption message to friends that I’m going to be all right, even if more pain remains, which it certainly does. But I’m no longer deeply depressed. I have my moments. My evenings are still filled with complete exhaustion. That comes from expending so much emotional energy which is far more taxing than expending physical energy. Physical energy exertion actually energizes you further. I’m speaking from personal experience.

If you haven’t been through what I’ve been through I am certain in saying “You will never understand”. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone. But the fact is my experience is not singular. One in ten American adults report having depression according to the Center for Disease Control. And if my writing can help any of them now or in the future than I can be glad. And I can also feel a whole lot closer to my own recovery.

Please know. I’ll be all right. I’m getting there. I haven’t quit yet.